Shashi, a trained engineering working as an interior project professional, is making a success story with his book Songs of the Mist, whose theme was in his mind for over 25 years! Born in Uttar Pradesh, studied in new Delhi, and currently residing in Chennai, Shashi shuttles around the world on business. Apart from writing on spirituality and Haiku (a Japanese poetry form), he is an avid photographer. Here is an excerpt of my candid discussion with Shashi:
- Tell us something about your recently published book Songs of the Mist.
“Songs of the Mist”, first part of The Monk Key series, is a spiritual fiction in which I am sharing the story of a young boy, Ashutosh, who leaves Varanasi because of a heartbreak and pain and embarks on a journey of self destruction while another young scientist, Ayan, is trying to discover the connection between science and divinity, working in Geneva, and feels that he will find the answer in a Monk, who has been appearing in his dreams since childhood. Ayan and Ashutosh meet in Himalaya and continue their journey along with a wandering mysterious Monk. On the other hand, two old friends of the protagonist Ashutosh, Vashudha from Varanasi and Calliope from Vienna, get ready to confront their own desires and loss as they all finally meet in Rishikesh.
In this book, I am trying to share the ancient idea of a Karma yogi and the way of life as charted out in Bhagwat Gita. As one of the reviews in Deccan Chronicle puts it, it is a book of ancient wisdom encapsulated in a love story i.e., “A bitter pill with sugar coating” for our young generation who does not want to connect with our unfashionable ancient heritage and culture.
- That is so intriguing! When did you start writing?
I had started writing the story almost two decades back, but as I was busy with my professional life, I could only write bits and pieces over the years. After 2008, I had began to get some more time and completed writing 500K words in 2010, including 125K words of the first part of “The Monk Key” Series – “Songs of the Mist”, which in its final form consists of 76K words.
- What is the purpose of your writing?
Milan Kundera, an author and philosopher I admire, has said that a work of Fiction Novel has to have a purpose of its existence. In 2010, my book had no purpose; apart from the usual one that satisfies one’s ego i.e. to be called an Author. But that reason alone did not push me to get it published. So my manuscript was just lying around in my laptop for many years. One day, as I asked my son who is studying in 2nd year of B-Tech, Computer science, if he has read the Gita? He replied “No, what’s the point?” That gave me a purpose.
My books are my effort to get the younger generation to connect with our own thought provoking cultural and literary heritage and get inspired by it. Until and unless someone makes it a point to let them know that there are powerful thoughts, ideas and beauty in those scriptures, Sanskrit Literature etc. why will they even bother to read it? Specially when there are so many distractions around them with the advent of technology and internet.
So the purpose of my book is to inspire them to get back to our beautiful cultural heritage and ancient literature. If not for the depths of knowledge hidden in those verses, shlokas, at least for the beauty of language itself. I believe that the language alone will change them, if they just read books like Kaldasa’s Shakuntala, Meghdoot, Sounarya Lahiri, Srimad Bhagwatam, Yoga Sutra’s, Upanishads, Puranas, Vedas etc
- What inspired you to bring forth this idea of Songs of the Mist as a book?
The story, the thoughts, and the characters had been in my mind for a long time but it turned into a concrete form of a book, when I happened to spend a week in Rishikesh, in the year 1987. On the banks of holy river Ganges, it seemed to have formed itself, flowing like the pure and sacred current nearby, descending from the peaks of Gangotri.
Click here to watch Shashi’s book launch.
- Is any part of Songs of the Mist inspired from real life?
The characters and story are fictional. but then the book is a culmination of decades of my travel in Himalayas, in plains of Ganges, and my own experiences and readings. So I cannot say that it’s not real. Most of my readers find themselves in it, identifying with one character or the other. But there are two very specific incidents from my own life. One in the beginning, where Ashutosh comes to know about what happened to his brother’s family back in Kushinagar (something that exactly happened as such with my father) and then there’s a dream sequence of Ayan in his village which I kind of believe to have happened with me in some form as well.
- Do you see a movie based on Songs of the Mist being made?
Yes, I have been approached by a Hindi/Bhojpuri Director as well as one popular Tamil Director for the same. This book is a trilogy – The Monk Key Series, so we are not talking about “Songs of the Mist” only but discussing the complete series as wholesome story of a young boy from adolescence to his final enlightenment. Since I have already written all the three parts so it is proving to be easier to go forward on the same lines with the two directors and their script writers.
- Wow! That is amazing! I can’t wait to see the film version of it given that unlike regular novels, Songs of the Mist is a unique concept one.
Yes, it is. Firstly, I call it a Spiritual Fiction – the genre is not there in publishing industry as yet (So my publisher Notion Press had to place it under Self Help Book category in Amazon).
Secondly, it is based on Indian scriptures and the underlying current is Bhagwat Gita. So to begin with, you read the book as a simple love story, but when you dig deeper, you find the characters are more than they are depicted in the book. You relate to them at deeper level as you go along reading it the second time. Most of the reviews I have had at Amazon, says that one needs to read it in depth to understand its underlying intent. The famous author, script-writer, and director, Timeri N Murari, advised the readers at an event organized by The Leela Palace Hotels and Apparao Galleries that-
“Many of us here yearn for something more in our life. Shashi has provided a spiritual release in his beautiful book, “Songs of the Mist”. It’s unusual and thought provoking book. The book answers questions that we struggle to frame in our daily lives… Not a book to be browsed at glance and to reach books full potential demands commitment and investment of time to savor its subtlety”
Then there are the songs that the mysterious Monk sings in the book to make Ashutosh understand life and its various aspects. The verses of the song are actual transformation of the Bhagwat Gita Shloka’s into Haiku (The world’s most popular poetic form from Japan, which paints picture with words three lines of 5-7-5 syllables).
In the end, it is also a journey to the Himalayas. I always tell my readers, if you have not been to Himalayas, read my book to be transported into the serene surroundings of high mountain peaks and valleys.
- I see. What importance do you think love, family and relationships hold in an individual’s life?
Personally, I think the reality of love is when we look at the world, relationship, and emotions not as an individual but as two people, looking together with one vision. This togetherness changes our perspective (kind of creating a 3-D effect). The whole world becomes more beautiful, fresh and inspiring; very different than having an individual perspective. The same is true for any kind of love, family or relationship.
In fact I believe that the love is absolute; the divine feeling of bliss without any limiting attributes. It remains same in every kind of relationship i.e. between friends, lovers, husband / wife, brother / sister or family or our relationships with all the things around us, only the way of its expression changes in its different form and style.
- Which of your works have been published so far?
This is my first book. My Haiku poetry has been published earlier at various platforms.
- So how was this journey of becoming a published author?
The journey to getting published has been a roller coaster ride till now. From the incredulity of my publisher as he did not find the right genre to fit it in – ultimately we had to coin a special category for the book – spiritual fiction, which was not available in Amazon at the time. So the publishers had to put the story of love, heartbreak and pain into self help book genre.
Songs of the Mist hit 2000 Plus rank at amazon within 9 days of its publishing and two digit rank in April, 2016 again, which made my publisher believe in the genre I was writing in, so he agreed to publish the next book as well, which is coming out in Oct 2016.
As the book gained its traction, Apparao Galleries, Leela Palace Hotels, and Odyssey Book store took it upon themselves to launch it to the readers. For this I am really grateful to Sharan Apparao and T Ashvin. During the recent Madras Day celebration in Chennai, my book was introduced as a book that’s creating waves in literary circle by the famous Odyssey Book store as well as listing me as Namma Chennai Author. So it has been quite a satisfying journey.
But most importantly, what gives me the greatest pleasure is the fact that it’s being read by young generation and through their word of mouth, slowly its achieving its organic growth across India as well as in Europe and USA market.
- Have you self-published your book or followed the traditional approach?
I had been approached by some traditional publishers but the timelines were vast so I decided to go through my publisher, Notion Press, who was able to publish it within three months, before the year 2015 ended.
- Which approach is better according to you: traditional or self-publishing, and why?
For me, the self-publishing route was better as it was faster. The other reason for me to self publish was to have the control over every aspect of its publishing – editing, cover page, book trailer etc. as I wanted to do everything on my own. I wanted “Songs of the Mist” as my complete creative output, not as some one else’s thoughts of it, about it.
- What should the beginners do today?
My first advice is to ensure that they have a purpose. They should know why they want to write the book. And once they have written what they wanted to say and share with the readers, they should give it to someone to read – not to friends or family but someone who can give an unbiased opinion. Even if the comments are bad, it is a good thing as one can go back to rewriting it. Nothing kills an author faster then a bad first book.
Second advice is to hire a good editor, even before pitching it to a publisher. Then keep on editing it. And then again edit. Make it crisp and concise. No line should be without a purpose or a reason in the book.
Third and the most valuable advice, I believe I can give is to read – read a lot. Anything, any genre, in fact one should read all kind of books, it helps you to create some distance between you and your own work. Even today I read lots of books and I enjoy reading comics as well.
- That is a very valuable piece of advice, especially about editing; I can vouch for it as I am myself an editor and know what importance it holds in the success of a book. Since you have witnessed the norms of both traditional and self-publishing, what is your take on book publishing as you see the current scenario?
The publishing scenario is great for good books. I think the self-publishing industry is the place to be for a new author. Kindle is another way to look forward to publishing industry. If you are writing a good book, go ahead and publish it on Kindle as one can do it oneself easily, without the need for a traditional publishers or distributors. Everyday, new and innovative traditional publishers are emerging with new ideas and ways to get the books to the right readers. I think the publishing industry is in for a churn now. At the end of this, only good authors and good publishers will remain standing. So, as a new author, place your bets on publishers that are supporting good writing, not famous names.
The other interesting trend that is emerging is that people are reading more books nowadays and looking for more and more. So if you have something good to share then go ahead publish it on your own, or with a new traditional publisher, or on your own blog; just ensure that it is worthwhile the effort of a reader.
- How true! What are your forthcoming writings?
- My next book based on “Inner Peace and Haiku” is being published in Oct 2016.
- The Hindi Translation of “Songs of the Mist” – as “Tushaar Geet” is getting published by the Delhi based publisher Story Mirror by November, 2016.
- The Essence of Divine Song – Based on the 9 songs of the mysterious Monk from the book “Songs of the Mist” is going to be published in January 2017.
- The second part of The Monk Key series is going to be released by March 2017 and the third part in Dec 2017
- Interesting!! What are the four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
- Flow and simple words.
- Thoughts in alignment with the characters.
- Rewriting (I wrote Songs of the Mist almost 20 times)
- Editing, editing, and editing. (‘Songs of the Mist’ was brought down from 125K words to 76K words)
- What is your favorite genre and why?
- Spiritual – as it helps me on my own journey of self-discovery
- Psychology and Philosophy – as that’s what life is all about
- Poetry (Haiku) – as it distills my thoughts and awareness into powerful words and images
- Love Story (Not Romance) – as after all love is all that we have in living a wonderful life.
- What / Who is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
- Bhagwat Gita, as this is the one book which tells you that you take this and this step and you will get this. A step-by-step guide to proper living, if you can leave aside the things that were specific to Vedic era of living.
- Karma Yoga – because it is the most practical way of life.
- My father, as he was the foremost Karma Yogi I have ever come across.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
Writing this book *Laughs*. I overcame it through sheer perseverance and hard work. Writing, whether you believe or not, needs lots of discipline and will power.
- I second that. If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
Nietzsche – because he, I believe, understood life in its true essence.
- And finally, any message for the readers?
We are all divine, it’s just that we don’t know it yet. But the good thing is that we can, only if we look deeper within. I usually sign my books with a message, “May you find the divinity within”. So here is to all my readers — may you find that mysterious monk to guide you on your own journey within.
So that was Shashidhar for you, author of “Songs of the Mist“.
You can get in touch with Shashidhar directly at:
Contact Madhuri for your author interview and getting your book reviewed / edited: firstname.lastname@example.org
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